Climate change is a deciding factor in record high water levels in the Great Lakes being higher than ever before, a University of Waterloo professor told CTV’s Your Morning on Wednesday.

According to government statistics, July water levels for the bodies of water between Canada and the U.S. were at record highs. And this can lead to faster erosion of the coastline and flooding.

The flooding this spring and summer along the northern shores of Lake Ontario, the Toronto Islands and some Toronto-area beaches has been particularly troublesome for homeowners and businesses.

Blair Feltmate, professor and head of Waterloo's Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation, says one of two factors “disproportionately” affecting water levels is climate change.

“Number one is climate change-induced. We’re getting more water coming down over shorter periods of time more frequently,” he said.

The second factor is how “we’ve removed 72 to 73 per cent of the natural infrastructure of forest fields and wetlands, which gives water a place to go when it falls.”

“Now, when the big storms hit, the water goes very quickly into the Great Lakes,” Feltmate said.

The Great Lakes region, which stretches across the southern Canadian border, is vitally important for commerce and because it holds one-fifth of the world's fresh water.

Feltmate doesn’t agree with idea that increases in water levels aren’t simply due to heavy rain and a big spring melt, as suggested by the International Joint Commission, a group created in 1909 for settling U.S.-Canada boundary-water disputes and, more recently, maintaining water quality.

“Plan 2014,” which the commission implemented at the end of 2016, raised the maximum water level in the Great Lakes to six centimetres more than the previous maximum to adjust to recent fluctuating water levels.


Feltmate said record-breaking flooding levels aren’t the “new normal” but rather the “evolving normal because climate change is here to stay. It’s not going anywhere.”

He lamented that efforts to stop it aren’t going as well as hoped, it’s too late to reverse humans' effects, and our efforts could only slow it down.

“The extremes in weather than we're experiencing now are going to get more extreme going forward,” he said. “We can expect a higher probability of flooding going forward.”

“So we have to adjust to this evolving normal."

These adjustments include re-planting trees which were once at the shorelines and setting up diversion channels and cisterns in at-risk areas. Then, at the level of individual houses and business, he said this means elevating window wells and having backup pumps when the power is down.

He also suggested that despite obvious differences on climate change policy between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Donald Trump, there could be hope at the lower levels of government.

“Once you come down a level of governors and mayors of cities you don’t have to do a lot of convincing there that climate change is problematic,” he said, explaining that this is because they’re directly dealing with the direct consequence of flooding.